Guest Post

David Bird’s Top Places to See Owls in Canada

By David M. Bird, Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology and former Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre at McGill University.

Consultant editor for DK’s Birds of Canada, Birds of Eastern Canada, Birds of Western Canada, and Pocket Birds of Canada, David Bird takes us on a flying tour through some of the best places to spot owls throughout the country.

A note on birdwatching

Unlike seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and migrating raptors, there are no guaranteed places to see owls with any regularity. With some exceptions such as Long-eared Owls, they do not generally roost in flocks; however they will concentrate in locations with super-abundant populations of voles during winter, especially when conditions are harsh. While some owl species are found in open habitats even in daytime (for example Snowy Owls, Great Gray Owls, and Hawk Owls), most require some heavy searching in thick forest and some luck to be seen.

Keeping an eye out for the more visible hawk species hunting in the daylight can give clues to an owl’s presence. If you see a Red-tailed Hawk frequenting a forest edge in the daytime, there is most likely a Great Horned Owl living in that same habitat. Similarly, if you see a Red-shouldered Hawk in a moist forest environment, chances are that Barred Owls are also there. The same goes for Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. Sometimes crows and mixed flocks of songbirds will give away a roosting owl’s presence by calling frequently and harassing them.

Many owl species, especially in daytime, will allow an observer to approach, but keep in mind that flushing them deliberately (or accidentally) from their roosts wastes valuable energy that they could use for foraging, as well as placing them in potential danger from predators or even vehicles. Be respectful of owls in the wild and always keep the bird’s best interests in mind.

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While photographers are always welcome, avoid harassing the owls by chasing after them for that close-up shot, and above all, do not use live bait to attract them!

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Visit for more information on how to best view the owls without harassing them.

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To find Northern Saw-whet Owls in cedars about 10 to 20 feet tall, you need to poke your head in and look carefully right up the trunk; they will usually stare down at you and not fly away, but do not overstay your welcome to avoid flushing them.

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Consider booking a trip with Eagle-Eye Tours, specifically aimed at finding boreal owl species like Great Gray Owls, Boreal Owls, and Hawk Owls (

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To learn about joining in on an Owl Prowl aimed at finding Northern Saw-whet Owls and run by the Nature Centre staff and volunteers in April of each year, email

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